There’s something good about Forest Park, but it’s hard to put your finger on just what it is.
We’re not as progressive as Oak Park. We still haven’t declared ourselves a nuclear-free zone. And people likely don’t come from overseas just to visit Forest Park.
Names like Hemingway and Wright draw visitors from all over the world to the village just east of us. What we’re famous for is a lot of cemeteries. Not an international draw.
River Forest has affluence. Most of the houses we live in, if they were located in the village north of us, would be razed and replaced with McMansions.
Businesses flocked to Madison Street 10 years ago because of cheaper rent and a village government that operated with less red tape. And our merchants and restaurateurs had quite a run. We were called the “New Bucktown” once. But, now, the rose doesn’t appear to be in full bloom anymore.
So what do we have to brag about?
After 29 years in this village with big city access and small town charm, I’ve concluded that the “something special” is faithfulness. It’s not affluence, tourist attractions or trendiness. Trendsetters come and go. Money can’t buy faithfulness. And tourists might feel it, but likely won’t be able to name it.
Faithfulness is the glue holding this village together. You know, the kind of commitment to place and community that we used to hear in marriage vows: “For rich or for poor, in sickness and in health.” That’s the faithfulness I’m talking about.
As a reporter, I’ve interviewed a lot of bright, creative people who have been very successful, and good for the local economy. They are like the blossoms on cherry trees that are beautiful in the spring, and produce fruit in the summer. But when the frost and darkness of November appear, it’s the faithful roots of the tree that hold it in place until the next season of prosperity.
I’ll give you one example. Laurie Kokenes has been the executive director of the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce and Development for many years. Hers is not a household name outside of the community. She has not made a lot of money in her own business as a print broker. She doesn’t have a Type-A personality. I’m not sure I’d even call her an entrepreneur.
What makes Laurie so special is her faithfulness. She comes in every day and does her job well. She’s committed to this down for the long haul. She is part of the root system in this community. She’s behind the scenes making Summerfest successful when the sun is shining, and she also shows up faithfully for duty when there’s a downpour.
Randy Howard is one of the graduates of Field Stevenson Middle School who attended the reunion of the classes of 1970-74, on Nov. 5, at the Mohr Center. (You can read about it in this week’s paper.)
When I interviewed him, he likened his days as a teenager in Forest Park to the TV show The Wonder Years (a coming-of-age series set in 1960s American suburbia).
Those were the years when not much was happening in this village: we were known as the town with taverns and cemeteries.
I think Randy has such fond memories of his adolescence because he grew up in a town where a lot of people were faithful – to their families, churches, community and country. He could care less that Forest Park, in the early ’70s, wasn’t the “New Bucktown” (then again, Bucktown wasn’t even the “New Bucktown” back then).
It’s nice when cherry trees blossom and bear fruit, but it’s the roots that keep the trees alive and stable in good times and in bad.
Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.
Keep up with new postings on my blog at oakpark.com/spiritualityethicsreligion